Walz pledges during Duluth visit to invest in child care
The governor on Wednesday detailed his plan for bigger reimbursements for child care providers and tax credits for parents that could lower costs and improve access.
DULUTH — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday visited the YWCA Early Childhood Center-Spirit Valley, where he read to children and promoted his plan to invest more heavily in child care.
He referred to child care providers as “the workforce behind the workforce.”
“All these children’s parents are out working and doing different things. And the stress that comes with not having access to quality child care is immense,” he said, noting that a shortage of openings and the expense of child care are both barriers to working families.
“We’re making it clear with our allies that the time to invest in Minnesota’s child care industry is now,” Walz said, pledging tax credits for parents and greater reimbursement support for child care providers, such as the YWCA.
He said Minnesota needs “to make sure that the economics work, to be able to hire people at a rate that is a living wage, to make sure that they’re able to keep the doors open here and that they’re able to keep the staff that we’re so dependent on.”
Nowhere else in the state does access to child care pose such a challenge as it does in Northeastern Minnesota, said Tony Sertich, president and CEO of the Northland Foundation.
“Today in the Northland, 4,000 children do not have access to child care. And at the same time, providers — be they at home or in centers — are really struggling to make ends meet. This has a negative impact on our economy, on families and the vibrancy of our communities. Now that’s the bad news,” he said.
“The good news is we have investments proposed by Gov. Walz to really close the gap. There is not a single silver bullet to do this," Sertich said.
Elena Foshay, director of workforce development for the city of Duluth and a mother of two school-age children, said she's "thrilled" state elected officials have prioritized child care this year.
"The pandemic showed us, more than any other time, how important child care is, not just to the families who depend on it, but to our regional economy," Foshay said. "Employers have been seeing, over and over, people who would like to work and would like to work full time, but they can’t, because they can’t find a child care solution.
“These are people we desperately need to fill jobs, and we need them to help prop up our regional economy. We hear it from employers as well, who are child care providers, that they can’t find the staff they need,” Foshay said.
Loni Stallsmith, director of the Spirit Valley YWCA Early Childhood Center, said: “Early childhood teachers are the people behind the people. Without child care, how does everyone else go about getting to their jobs, so we can have an economy and a society that thrives and grows?”
She noted that in the first five years of life, children’s brains are developing connections most rapidly.
“And those connections impact their lifelong learning in areas of motor development, language, math and logic and emotional control and social connections. If they don’t learn those skills here in those first five years, then learning in those areas becomes even more difficult and sometimes even impossible,” Stallsmith said.
Employers have been seeing, over and over, people who would like to work and would like to work full time, but they can’t, because they can’t find a child care solution.
She said many people in child care feel a calling.
“We’re passionate about our work, and we love the children and families here in our care," Stallsmith said. "We teach these kids day in and day out, and it’s hard mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting work, but we do it with smiles on our faces and with materials that we’ve often purchased with money from our own meager paychecks, because we know that these kids and the work that we do is the most important work that there could be."
Desirae Williams, a St. Louis County social worker, spoke with her infant daughter, Baker, asleep in her arms.
“Being able to access child care here in Duluth allowed me to go back to work and serve my community,” she said. “Having affordable child care, where I know that my daughter is safe and well-cared for while I’m at work, allows me to continue to do that.”